We live in a world that is globalized to an extent that would have seemed almost unimaginable just 50 years ago. What that means is that companies now have access to all kinds of emerging markets. And an important prerequisite to successfully tapping those markets for your company is making your brand and your company known to the population of other countries. What better way to do this, then by exhibiting at trade shows and expos in the countries you are trying to make inroads into?
But, just as exhibiting internationally can be a huge boon to your business, it also provides additional challenges. Specifically, exhibiting in an international setting requires you to take some time to understand the cultural and political contexts of that society.
What do we mean about this? Well, let’s just take an (admittedly somewhat ridiculous) example. Say that McDonald’s wanted to set up some trade show booths at fast food expo in order to increase their brand exposure in the East. To do this, they decide to exhibit at an up-and-coming trade show in India (you might see where this is going already).
After spending tens of thousands of dollars on impressive exhibit design which features Ronald McDonald figures dancing and eating hamburgers, they don’t seem to be hitting the mark with the Indian attendees. In fact, most of the expressions on their faces as they each visit McDonald’s trade show booths are ones of horror and disbelief, rather than excitement and joy.
What’s wrong here? Of course, McDonald’s failed to pay adequate attention to the cultural context of the country in which they were exhibiting. Specifically, many Indians are Hindu and see the cow as a sacred animal, never to be harmed and certainly not ground into burgers and eaten with a side of fries.
Now, this is an extreme example and McDonald’s is certainly a large and savvy enough multinational corporation to have entire departments dedicated to avoiding this kind of cultural gaffe, but still it drives the point home.
When exhibiting internationally, you must check everything from your staff to your exhibit design to make sure that you aren’t violating some subtle (or significant) cultural norms. Things like what hand you pass your flyers out with or in what ways women who are staffing your trade show booths are dressed become imbued with much more importance in certain areas of the world. Failure to recognize the cultural and political realities could mean serious negative publicity in just the country you are attempting to market your products and services to.